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Justice minister's attacks on Breaking the Silence may just backfire

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s latest crusade has led to a Breaking the Silence spokesperson being questioned under caution. But if she’s so concerned about army abuses against Palestinians, why isn’t she ordering an investigation into the string of unlawful killings carried out by soldiers?

In Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s latest stunt, Breaking the Silence spokesperson Dean Issacharoff has been questioned under caution after he testified on a group tour that he had assaulted a Palestinian during his army service.

There’s no point trying to spin this: that is what members of Breaking the Silence do. They testify in front of the Israeli public — to the extent they are able in the face of policies to silence them — about the daily reality of occupation, and about what happens when soldiers sent to fulfill ambitions of supremacy meet the Palestinians who must pay the price.

I want to dwell for a moment on the reasoning Shaked used in her appeal to the Attorney General on this matter: “Given the great importance I place on preserving the good name of the State of Israel and IDF soldiers, I thought it fitting to request that you look into this incident. If it transpires that the reports are correct, justice must be done immediately.”

The good name of the State of Israel and the army — that’s what’s worthy of preservation. The lives of the millions of defenseless Palestinians under violent occupation are of no interest to the justice minister, which we’ve known for some time. And it’s also no surprise that the minister who demands instant legal action against a left-wing activist is the same one who sought clemency for Elor Azaria, a soldier who shot and killed someone who was dying on the ground.

But perhaps, Madam Justice Minister, alongside your obsessive hounding of the Left, you might consider applying the same moral standards to the dozens of case files against IDF soldiers and officers, some of them very senior, who were involved in killing unarmed Palestinians. These files have been quietly plastered over and closed, far from the public eye. They too do little for the good name of the country and army.

Perhaps you could, for example, order the reopening of the investigation into the shooting and killing of two siblings, Maram Abu Ismail and Salim Taha, by civilian security contractors at Qalandiya checkpoint last year....

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One of Israel's most painful chapters comes to life in Jerusalem

After 60 years of covering up the disappearance of hundreds of Yemeni babies in the early years of the state, the time has come for justice and accountability.

There were moments during Wednesday night’s rally to commemorate the Yemenite children affair in which I wondered how the tiles beneath us, in Jerusalem’s Mashbir Square, failed to crack under the unbearable weight of pain and grief.

Veteran Jerusalemites will likely remember this plaza as “Talita Komi,” one of the city’s most vibrant areas. On Fridays people would stand here and deliver speeches to passersby, on Saturday evenings it was where young men and women would come to meet each other, long before the age of cellphones. On Wednesday evening, the plaza suddenly reverted back to its golden age.

Over 2,000 men and women, young people with babies in their arms, elderly who used wheelchairs and walkers to get around, parents and children, filled the square to the brim — all of them demanding recognition, justice, and redress for the Yemenite children who were disappeared by the state in Israel’s nascent years. Police didn’t disperse the dozens of demonstrators who blocked King George Street, one of downtown Jerusalem’s main thoroughfares.

On stage, speaker after speaker delivered their testimony about the disappearance of brothers or daughters during the early years of the state, after they arrived in Israel. These were testimonies that had never been delivered before a court. Yet with the trembling power of their words they defiantly turned the square into a courtroom where they could finally tell stories that had been silenced, ridiculed, and denied for so many years. Beyond it all, however, people simply spoke to one another. They held up photos of their disappeared loved ones, they listened, they cried.

Usually we come to protests with a desire to make our voices heard. To call out and scream. On Wednesday that scream was heard in our very presence, and the most active thing we could do was listen to the testimonies. I think that for many of us who protest regularly, it was an incredible lesson in humility. The ability to listen to the stories that our minds refuse to process, detailed in the most beautiful Hebrew I have ever heard at a demonstration. Testimonies that don’t miss a beat, and even after 60 years still feel so alive and heartrending.

There were testimonies of Yemeni women who understood what was happening around them and would hide...

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When it comes to gender terrorism, Israel's brave leaders stay silent

Four women have been murdered since the beginning of the week, but if you look at our leaders’ Facebook pages, you’ll notice they are spending all their time attacking Palestinians and leftists.

Fourteen women have been murdered in Israel since the beginning of 2017, four of them in the past week alone. Had the murderers been Arab and the murdered Jewish, it is likely that we would have already been in a state of emergency. Televised cabinet meetings would deal with the “wave of terror,” special forces would be spread out across the country, and politicians would compete with one another over the most effective means of putting an end to the situation.

As luck should have it, the victims’ only crime was that they were women — so our leaders remain silent. The official Facebook pages of our prime minister, education minister, and public security minister include not a single mention of these crimes. So what are they talking about?

Education Minister Naftali Bennett is busy praising the “wonderful Ayelet Shaked,” the justice minister from his Jewish Home party, who said goodbye to Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, writing about his speech at the Haaretz Conference on Peace, which took place earlier this week, and the need to punish Israeli academics who call for boycotts against Israel. Murderous violence against women? Nothing. As if the education system has nothing to do with this sick reality — one in which women are exposed to countless types of violence against their bodies, their dignity, and their souls.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is busy with his obsession over Israel’s Arab citizens. “Arab Knesset members are trying to sabotage the revolution that I am leading to bring in police presence to the Arab sector in order to strengthen the rule of law. It won’t work! Police services and enforcement will apply in every part of the country!” Every part of the country except all the places in which women are murdered — that is, everywhere. But Erdan doesn’t feel the urge to write about these murders, as if the security of girls, teenagers, and women is not part of his job description. The man who runs to the media a minute after the killing of Yacoub Abu al-Qi’an so that he can call him an ISIS terrorist — and who continues to repeat this claim even after it has been exposed...

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Gazans being held hostage by Israeli, PA gamesmanship

The Israeli cabinet decided to accept Mahmoud Abbas’ request that the electricity supply to Gaza be cut. The army has warned against doing so, but it seems that for Israel, Abbas’ interests are more important than people’s lives.

Who says there is no coordination between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority? On Sunday evening, Israel gladly accepted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas request to cut the already-dilapidated electricity supply to Gaza, in order to make life for its residents that much more difficult. Think about the significance of cutting electricity by 40 percent in the middle of a blazing summer. The government and the IDF are both well aware of the current humanitarian crisis in the Strip. They are also well aware of the potential for an escalation should Israel continue to intensify the crisis. But the decision is to accede to Abbas’ request in his war against Hamas — all on the backs of the people who live there. Why? Because it serves Mahmoud Abbas’ political interests.

Palestinians in Gaza are afforded between four and eight hours of electricity on an average day, and this is without even taking into account problems that arise in Gaza’s power plant or in power lines from Egypt or Gaza. Most of the supply comes from Israel, a smaller portion from Egypt, and in the past around 25 percent from the local power plant. Israel supplies 120 megawatts in 10 high voltage lines — an amount that hasn’t changed for the past 10 years, despite the fact that Gaza’s population, and its needs, have grown dramatically in this time. Overall, the electricity that reaches Gaza on a daily basis covers just over half of what is needed. And this is when things are “normal.”

Since mid-April, Gaza’s sole power station has been out of commission, after a deal by Turkey and Qatar to supply the it with fuel came to an end. The situation has created an energy crisis in the Strip — and the consequences are dire. Hospitals, for example, have ceased providing necessary treatments and are relying exclusively on ramshackle generators. This means that water purification systems aren’t functioning, while untreated sewage finds its way to the sea in enormous quantities. Water filters cannot be used, and it is nearly impossible to rely on pumps to clear the sewage from the neighborhoods. All these create real life-threatening situations. The...

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Israel renews admin detention of Palestinian prisoners advocate

Hasan Safadi, who was accused of affiliation with a proscribed organization and visiting an enemy state, will remain imprisoned without charge for another six months.

Israeli military authorities extended the administrative detention of Palestinian prisoners’ rights activist Hasan Safadi on Thursday.

Hasan Safadi, a journalist who works as media coordinator for Addameer, an NGO that supports Palestinian prisoners in both Israeli and Palestinian prisons, was supposed to be released from administrative detention on June 10. The authorities decided his detention would be extended for another six months, until December 8, 2017.

Administrative detention is a procedure that Israel uses to imprison detainees based on secret evidence, without charging them or allowing them to defend themselves at trial. Administrative detention orders may be renewed indefinitely.

Safadi, who lives in Jerusalem’s Beit Hanina neighborhood, was first arrested on May 1, 2016 as he was crossing Allenby Bridge from Jordan into the West Bank on his way home from an Arab Youth Conference in Tunisia. From there he was transferred to the Russian Compound interrogation center in Jerusalem, where he was interrogated for 40 days.

During his trial, the military prosecution allegedly claimed that Safadi was affiliated with an illegal organization and has visited an enemy state (Lebanon) more than once. It further claimed that he has conducted illegal activities without specifying exactly what those activities are, and argued that he is affiliated with other Palestinian detainees without identifying the names of said detainees.

According to Addameer, Safadi was subjected to sleep deprivation, long interrogation sessions, and was put in stress positions with his hands tied throughout the interrogations. He was also denied access to an attorney for 10 days, as well as family visitations.

Safadi was originally supposed to be released from detention on June 10, 2016 by order of Jerusalem’s Magistrate’s Court, after paying NIS 2,500 in bail and obtaining third-party guarantees. Later the same day, however, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman signed an administrative detention order against Safadi, effectively overriding the court’s decision.

Safadi is one of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in administrative detention, some of whom have been imprisoned without the right to a trial for years.

This post was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call. 

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Palestinian activists break Ramadan fast at Hebron checkpoint

The restrictions on movement between different neighborhoods of Hebron meant that a number of Palestinian activists, who were on their way to an iftar meal in Tel Rumeida, were compelled to break their fast sitting on the ground at a checkpoint instead.

Ramadan, the holiest month for Muslims across the world, is a time for family get-togethers, especially around the Iftar meal, which breaks the day-long fast every evening. Extended families gathering for a meal — what could be more trivial than that? Except if it happens in Hebron, where nothing is as trivial as it seems.

Several members of Dismantle the Ghetto, a group that was established February of this year and includes activists from different factions and human rights organizations in Hebron, were invited last Saturday for an Iftar meal at a friend’s home in the neighborhood of Tel Rumeida.

“There was only one problem,” says Badie Dweik, one of the organizers. “We needed to pass a checkpoint through which we weren’t allowed on the way. Israel announced a number measures to ease freedom of movement during Ramadan, including an additional 700 entry permits into Israel for residents of the West Bank, an incredibly low number. But the joke is even sadder when it comes to the residents of Hebron. We don’t even have the most basic right to movement.”

When the activists arrived in Tel Rumeida on the way to the meal, soldiers at the checkpoint began checking their identification cards. Beginning in October 2015, Tel Rumeida was deemed a closed military zone and residents of the neighborhood were forced to register with the military authorities, in order to confirm the fact that they indeed are residents of the neighborhood. Only those registered as residents are allowed entry.

Because a number of Dismantle the Ghetto activists are not residents of Tel Rumeida and cannot enter the neighborhood, they decided to break the fast at the checkpoint itself. “With no other choice, we spread out the blankets on the ground and began serving the traditional maqlouba,” says Dweik. “This is the reality in Hebron. We cannot even break the fast together, if we want to be humans and not numbers.”

This post was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call.

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Israeli army jails conscientious objector for fourth time

Atalya Ben-Abba, 19, has already served 80 days in jail for refusing to enlist in the IDF and participate in the occupation.

Israeli conscientious objector Atalya Ben-Abba, 19, was on Wednesday sentenced to a fourth stint in jail for refusing to enlist in the IDF. She has already spent 80 days in prison.

Ben-Abba, a Jerusalem resident, was jailed after reporting at the military induction center, where she declared her refusal to serve in the army on the grounds that she was not prepared to take part in the occupation and repression of the Palestinian people.

Ben-Abba was sentenced to 30 days’ jail time, after which she is expected to receive a further summons to report for duty, when she will once again refuse to enlist and reiterate that she is seeking to replace her army service with civilian national service.

Last week, on the International Day of Conscientious Objection, Amnesty International Israel published the findings of a survey in which it compared draft refusal in Israel to that in several other countries with conscription. According to the survey, when compared alongside Western democracies, Israel is one of the most serious violators of conscientious objectors’ rights under international law.

Amnesty International Israel recommends that conscientious objectors’ refusal be recognized as stemming from a legitimate conflict between their beliefs — for example, pacifism or religious faith — and military service.

Ben-Abba is being supported by Mesarvot — Refusing to Serve the Occupation, a grassroots network that brings together individuals and groups who refuse to enlist in the IDF in protest at the occupation.

In March, the army recognized refusal to serve in the occupation as conscientious objection for the first time in 13 years, as it decided to release Tamar Ze’evi after she had spent a total of 118 days in prison.

Several other conscientious objectors refused to enlist in the army last year, including Tair Kaminer and Aidan Katri.

This post was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call. 

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'If this hunger strike succeeds, it could mean revolution'

He entered prison for the first time at the age of 10, was one of the founders of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, and became one of the representatives of Fatah’s security prisoners in Israeli jails. For the last decade, Ramzi Fayyad, who has been working to promote dialogue between representatives of released prisoners, views the the current hunger strikes as an opportunity. Orly Noy spoke to him about prison conditions, the failure to learn from past mistakes, and why the strike could help Palestinians on a global level.

The hunger strike organized by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails has been going on for four weeks, and as anticipated, after the initial uproar in the media, has fallen out of the public eye in Israel. This itself is an expression of the occupier’s authoritarian arrogance: the deep indifference to the political and social drama unfolding on the streets of Palestine, which we are only interested in, if at all, when it has to do with “terrorists” who dare to demand satellite channels in their cells.

From the first day, the strike reminded me of one name: Ramzi Fayyad, a former security prisoner who I used to interview 12-13 years ago, on a radio show I hosted at the time. Ramzi would speak to us from time to time from from Ktziot Prison, talking about the conditions of the prisoners, and Palestinian politics more generally. I owe some of my deepest insights to these conversations. Over the years, we developed a real friendship, and through friends from the outside we exchanged photos of family, letters, and children’s gifts. We haven’t spoken for a long time, Ramzi and I. The hunger strike brought me right back to our discussions, and after a short conversation we agree it is time to meet up again after all these years. He cannot enter Israeli territory, so I drove to visit him and his family in Jenin.

Ramzi waits for me at Huwarra. Even though the years in jail have left a clear mark on him, I immediately recognize him from the photographs, and the meeting is incredibly moving. He pulls out a thermos and two glasses out of his car, pouring us coffee, “welcome coffee” and we set off. Ramzi is married and has two sons – Osama, the eldest at 16, who was a baby in the photos Ramzi had once sent, and Alaa, his nine year-old son who was born after...

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Israelis simply don't want to know about Palestinian prisoners

The Israeli public doesn’t care about Palestinians on hunger strike, about conditions in prison, or what happens to a body after it is deprived of food for so long.

Sometime in the ’90s, “Popolitica,” a popular political talk show in Israel, brought on a woman from Israel’s geographical periphery who could not send her child to school because she could not afford it. “There is a law in this country that mandates all parents send their children to school!” she said angrily. Tommy Lapid, the late father of Yair Lapid, who sat on the panel, cut her off: “My dear, the money you spent on your haircut could have been used to educate your child for a year.”

I recalled this story after watching Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and his doppelgängers celebrate the release of the video showing Palestinian prisoner Marwan Barghouti eating a chocolate-coated waffle while on hunger strike. How low does one need to go to bait a hunger-striking prisoner and then celebrate it as a victory? But this is the way of the villains: to scorn a woman who cannot send her son to school over her hair color, in order to avoid a serious discussion about a system that leaves out her son, or to celebrate images of a prisoner eating during a hunger strike, instead of talking about the demands and conditions in which thousands of Palestinian prisoners find themselves.

In fact, until this moment I didn’t see a single media outlet, aside from Local Call, publish the hunger strikers’ full list of demands. Why have 1,600 prisoners refused to eat for 3 weeks? What do they want? Who are these people? The Israeli public doesn’t know. It doesn’t know what their conditions are in prison, or how much harsher conditions have become for them since they started their strike. Prisoners are prevented from meeting with their lawyers and are subject to solitary confinement, raids on their cells at all hours of the day, invasive body searches, confiscating salt, which forms the core basis of hunger strikers’ diet during their strike. The Israeli public neither knows nor has any desire to know.

After three weeks of hunger strike, the Israeli public neither knows nor wants to know what happens to a body after it is deprived of food for so long. How the hunger striker struggles to stand on his feet, suffers...

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WATCH: Masked settlers attack left-wing activists in Jordan Valley

Five of the activists, who were there to protect Palestinian shepherds from settler attacks, were themselves wounded by Israeli settlers.

A group of masked Israeli settlers attacked over a dozen activists with Jewish-Arab solidarity group Ta’ayush in the Jordan Valley on Friday morning. The activists were accompanying Palestinian shepherds working near al-Auja, which is near Habaladim, an Israeli outpost.

Last year, in addition to their regular activities in the South Hebron hills, Ta’ayush activists also started going to the Jordan Valley to work with Palestinian communities threatened by Israeli settlers. Until recently, they focused their work in the northern part of the valley, but for the last two weeks they have also accompanied Palestinians in the al-Auja area due to violence settlers have been inflicting on local shepherding communities.

“The settlers showed up with clubs last week also,” said one of the Ta’ayush activists who witnessed the violence. “But last week they didn’t go any further than the adjacent hilltop — maybe they didn’t understand who we were. This week they didn’t stop there.”

The Baladim outpost is one of the more hard-core settlements in the area. “The most radical and marginalized hilltop youth are there, the type even the rabbis can’t control and don’t even want them there,” the activist continued. “The police also keep an eye on them and show up from time to time, but they basically hide in caves. They’ve become a nightmare for the shepherds in this area.”

On Friday, the settlers advanced toward the activists armed with clubs and stones, and violently attacked them, as the video shows. Five of the activists were wounded, one in the head. The activists reported the attack to the police, whom they had informed in advance they would be accompanying the shepherds.

“When we saw them approaching us we stood in a line with the shepherds behind us,” the activist recalled. “We yelled at them to get away but they kept coming and attacked.”

“Because the attack took place in a location without any access roads, we were forced to walk down a steep path for around 40 minutes until we reached asphalt, where an ambulance was waiting,” he continued.

“The police who showed up told us to go to the Binyamin police station in order to file a complaint, but when we got there the station was empty — not a single soul was there...

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Conscientious objector jailed by Israeli army for third time

Atalya Ben-Abba, 19, has already spent 50 days in prison for refusing to serve in the IDF, and has now been sentenced to a further 30 days.

Conscientious objector Atalya Ben-Abba, 19, was on Tuesday sentenced to a third stint in prison after reporting to the Tel Hashomer military induction base and refusing to enlist in the IDF. Ben-Abba will spend 30 days in jail, on top of the 50 days she has already served following her previous two refusals.

On the previous two occasions, Ben-Abba was sentenced along with fellow draft refusers Tamar Ze’evi and Tamar Alon, both of whom were recently released from the military after each serving more than 100 days in jail.

Once she has finished her current jail term, Ben-Abba is expected to be again summoned to the military induction base, where she will continue to refuse to serve in the army and will state her willingness to carry out civilian national service instead.

In March, the army recognized refusal to serve in the occupation as conscientious objection for the first time in 13 years, as it decided to release Tamar Ze’evi after she had spent a total of 118 days in prison.

Several other conscientious objectors refused to enlist in the army last year, including Tair Kaminer and Aidan Katri.

Last fall, hundreds of Ethiopian Israelis announced they would refuse army reserve duty, in protest at police violence and institutional discrimination toward them.

This post was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Israelis must speak up about the injustices here, and the world must listen

The world is not against us — rather, it is at best indifferent to the oppression of Palestinians, and at worst colludes in it, which is why Israelis must inform decent people about what is happening here.

I was invited to attend a series of meetings organized by French activists that were held this week. The participants were involved in Palestine solidarity work, some of them with longstanding ties to Palestinian communities. Several visit Israel-Palestine on occasion, and assist however they can from afar.

And yes, they are ardent supporters of all forms of non-violent struggle, particularly boycott. Every year, at the general meeting of local councils, they invite speakers from Israel-Palestine in order to broaden their perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I generally think that these kinds of meetings are very important. The occupation is not an internal Israeli matter, and the international community is not merely entitled to know what is happening and to intervene — it has to.

But here in France, amid the endless greenery and against your will, Zionist indoctrination drifts in and quietly pecks away at your thoughts: what makes these people, who live in one of the most peaceful and beautiful places you’ve seen, decide to get involved in the Palestinian struggle? Why this cause specifically? And that damned suspicion that has worked its way into our veins — perhaps they are acting not out of concern for Palestinians, but out of hatred for Israel (or rather for Jews, of the kind it is no longer polite to admit to these days).

During long conversations with the hosts — most of them elderly, and warm, welcoming and exceptionally generous — I set aside these suspicions and listen intently. No, they are not anti-Semites. No, they don’t hate Israel. They are veteran activists who come from a long and steadfast tradition of anti-fascism, and who are appalled at what is happening around them, both in France (especially now, ahead of the elections), and in Palestine, which is currently a hot topic on the French Left.

The couple in whose home I was staying, both retired teachers, are activists in the Palestine solidarity movement. The man has traveled to Israel-Palestine several times, and follows after the situation here with great concern. His grandmother on his mother’s side was Jewish, and his mother was an atheist who fought with the partisans. He, too, is an atheist, and was...

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Israeli police are a danger to Palestinian public safety

A video of an Israeli police officer assaulting a Palestinian man may have gone viral this week, leading senior officials to condemn it. It also served as a reminder that police violence is a part of everyday life for Palestinians in Israel.

The now-infamous video of an Israeli police officer beating a Palestinian man in East Jerusalem, which began circulating on social media on Thursday media, won’t leave me. I am trying to figure out precisely why these images are so disturbing and stomach-churning. After all, anyone who knows even bit about the reality in the eastern part of the city knows there is nothing new here. After all, the police’s violent, frightening presence in Palestinian areas is part of everyday life here.

I know this reality well. I know it from the rows of detained Palestinians who are made to stand against a wall, which I see at least twice a day in this city. I know it from the beatings during protests, from the Border Police jeeps that drive wildly in the Palestinian neighborhoods. Too many times have I almost been run over by one while crossing the street. I am guessing they must have thought I was Palestinian, and no police jeep will slow down to allow a Palestinian the right to cross in these areas.

Perhaps it is the fact that none of the Palestinian men present try to intervene or strike back as they watch the officer’s depraved behavior. They just stand there and take it. But the fact is that the officer could very easily claim that his life was in danger, meaning these men would quickly find themselves in court as the attackers. The statistics show that they are right.

Between 2011-2014, in more than 93 percent of cases in which citizens filed reports against the police, the Police Investigation Unit either refrained from opening an investigation or closed the case without taking action against the offending officers. Among the 11,282 complaints filed between 2011-2013, only 306 cases (2.7 percent) led to criminal trials, while only 374 (3.3 percent) led to disciplinary hearings. In 2014, only 2.5 percent of complaints turned into a trial, while three percent led to a disciplinary hearing. The rest of the cases were either closed due to lack of evidence or public interest — or were never investigated in the first place.

In 2016, 2,945...

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